"Yes, we need to minimise transmission, but we dont want to come out of this pandemic with an even greater problem on our hands, that will take years to rectify."
KR CEO, Kenneth Caruana
As we know, the rules around face coverings are changing all of the time and as per the latest update to the government’s rules for the public: “In England, you must wear a face covering in the following indoor settings”.
This advice though, is not enforced across the retail sector. The government guidelines quote that “Employers should support their workers in using face coverings safely if they choose to wear one”.
And support them they are. Tesco, Aldi and Sainsbury's have all publicly said that their employees have been given masks or visors whenever they want them. And with stats such as that given by the Health Secretary Matt Hancock: "The death rate of sales and retail assistants is 75 per cent higher amongst men and 60 per cent higher amongst women than in the general population," we’ve seen a sea of face coverings in all shops across the country.
But what type of face covering is really going to keep our shopworkers safe? A controversial debate continues around the effectiveness of different face coverings in containing the spread of Covid19. However, despite all the conspiracy theories and stubbornness, face masks do provide a barrier that restricts droplets travelling further than they would normally.
This constant back and forth has only served to fuel the sceptics, confuse the willing and panic the unsure. While mainstream media looks for controversial stories and social media spawns’ new ‘medical experts’ next door, we find ourselves trapped in a world of mixed-messaging and confusion.
So, what is the truth, are facemasks any good? This is a very difficult question to answer definitively. The introduction of mandatory facemasks has given birth to a booming industry, everyone from large companies down to Doris at number 32, are jumping on the bandwagon making their own. This sudden spike in manufacturing and demand has meant the industry, in its infancy, has been caught unprepared. There are no legal restrictions on what facemasks have to include, or what they need to be made of, anyone can make them, and anyone can sell them. In fact, only just recently has a BSI kitemark scheme been introduced.
So, the reality is, the confused consumer and shop worker alike, have no guidance on this mandatory purchase or to what level it will protect them, leading to un-educated buying that exposes them to an unknown level of risk. Align this lack of regulation with human behaviour factors and you get a huge range of scenario variables that are uncontrollable and impact a facemask’s effectiveness.
So, what are the different issues with facemasks?
Type of mask is a huge issue. Fabric masks for example are reusable and provide a barrier of protection in typical situations. However, as soon as they retain moisture or are not regularly washed, they become almost ineffective. This may work for the consumer popping to the shops but what about the shopworker wearing one all day?
Medical grade face masks on the other hand, undoubtedly provide the highest level of protection but contain plastics and are single use meaning they are already becoming an environmental disaster and a huge problem for our oceans.
Fabric facemasks are used to protect those around you, but do not protect the wearer as they do not cover all the face, leaving the eyes exposed. Sizing and fit have become a huge issue. Even with a good fit it has been proven wearers find themselves constantly adjusting the mask and touching their face increasing the risk of virus transference. With an ill-fitting mask this becomes ten-fold.
Human behaviour is probably the greatest variable, ranging from people’s inability to wear them correctly, having to remove them in social scenarios such as pubs and cafes and poor mask maintenance.
Taking into account all these factors, it certainly seems doubtful that fabric facemasks are the best and only solution. Should we be looking at better options?
A better solution?
The answer could lie in with full-face shields! In fact, many medical experts across the globe are now starting to highlight the benefits of full-face visors as a preferential option to facemasks as they offer multiple benefits above fabric masks alone.
Firstly, they offer full-face protection covering not just the mouth and nose but also the eyes, an important area to protect from airborne infection. Another benefit is that in warmer weather a face-shield provides a much cooler option over a face mask but still offers substantial protection. The space between the face and visor allows a more breathable space but still protects the wearer from droplets. In fact medical professionals in California, upon testing shields have said in a typical everyday situation “Someone would have to stand underneath you and sneeze up into you” for the mouth to be exposed*.
Supporting this, a recent study by Eli Perencevich, M.D., a professor of internal medicine and epidemiology at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine noted that face-shields appear to significantly reduce the amount of inhalation exposure to influenza virus, another droplet-spread respiratory virus. In his study shields were shown to reduce immediate exposure by 96 percent. **
In addition to the medical benefits of a full-face shield are some pretty substantial sociological and environmental ones too.
They firstly are reusable and easy to wipe clean, making them low maintenance and environmentally friendly. They are less likely to provide discomfort or be ill-fitting meaning less face touching by the wearer.
But it must be said one of the best benefits is that these visors provide full visibility of the face which is a huge benefit for hearing impaired and to those with learning difficulties where face to face interaction is key. It also provides a less intimidating tone in retail environments where sharing a smile is all part of the experience.
With such benefits it would seem a full-face shield should be the way forward and companies such as 2KR designs are already producing customisable masks that provide a friendly feel for the corporate and consumer world.
The amazing benefits of full-face shields are currently massively understated in the media but with so many reasons to wear one it can only be a matter of time before we see that change, particularly in retial where the shifts can take their toll on workers.
However keep in mind that staying safe from COVID-19 means putting in place multiple safeguards, including thorough handwashing and observing social distancing where possible.
In such changing times a smile is more important than ever to lift the world from its recent gloom and with full-face shields this seems like a great safe way to spread some joy.
This article was produced in association with 2KRdesigns.